They didn't exactly get there in style, but the Louisville Cardinals are 4-0 after a seven-point road win over FIU.
In every successful Louisville football season - and in most football seasons overall - there has been one game Cardinal fans have been able to look back at and say, "oh yeah, I'd kind of forgotten about that, that was ugly."
In 2004, it was the team's 56-49 Thursday night win over Memphis in which the Cardinal defense, which had entered the game allowing just 7.0 points per contest, appeared completely incapable of tackling or covering anyone in a Tiger uniform. In the Orange Bowl championship season of 2006, it was an uninspired effort against a very average Cincinnati team in which U of L had to intercept a pass in the endzone on the final play of the game in order to remain unbeaten.
It is my hope that Saturday's 28-21 win over Florida International will join these other two on the fictional wall of "lackluster victories in the midst of otherwise wildly success seasons" fame.
The easy thing to do here is to say, "well you play to win games and the Cards are 4-0 now," but Louisville's performance on Saturday was a bit too troublesome for me to do that...at least this early in the post. I understand there were extenuating circumstances like 34 players returning to their home state and the weather and all that, but U of L has played in the rain before and the homecoming was discussed ad nauseum last week. There was no aspect of the FIU game that the Cards shouldn't have been prepared for, and yet they found themselves in a titanic struggle with the Golden Panthers for the second year in a row.
The most concerning thing about Louisville's performance on Saturday against a team that appeared on paper to be clearly overmatched by the Cards was the fact that U of L didn't seem to have the same bounce they have consistently had under Charlie Strong. Granted, things like this are much easier to accurately discern when you're actually in attendance (or at least not being forced to watch a perpetually buffering Internet feed), but it definitely seemed as though Louisville appeared to be a little too...relaxed, for lack of a better term, after going up 7-0 early in the first quarter. How this could possibly happen after U of L easing up became the story in the wake of the Cards' 39-34 win over North Carolina is beyond me.
I apologize if this all sounds overly negative, I just fear that we're heading towards a "well, the signs of this happening were all there" loss in the near future, when that really shouldn't happen. The talk about this being a young team that's still learning its way carries some weight, but not as much as a lot of folks are claiming.
There are fewer freshmen seeing the field for this team than either of Charlie's first two. And the sophomores that are being relied upon so heavily right now? They're all far too experienced at this point to play the youth card. Just about everyone playing a major role for this U of L team was contributing last year when the Cards laid an egg at home against Pitt. They should all remember that one afternoon where they didn't bring it was the difference between Orange Bowl and Belk Bowl.
College football is far less forgiving than its basketball counterpart. Each and every week is so vital, because any loss means that you've likely put yourself in a position where now you need some outside help in order to achieve your team goals, regardless if that's a national championship, a conference title, a bowl bid, a top ten ranking, etc.
The most comforting thing about being an underclassmen is the awareness that you're always going to have another shot. What Louisville's underclassmen have to understand right now is that they are 1/3 of the way to accomplishing something that U of L football has never done. They're 1/3 of the way to history. The future is never as certain as it seems, and if these guys don't take advantage of the opportunity they have right now then they could wind up regretting it for the rest of their lives.
Charlie Strong said this summer that his two biggest concerns heading into this season were his team's youth and the quirky schedule. This is proving to be an accurate assessment.
U of L has always struggled to play well in Florida, and I don't think there's any question that the distractions which come with this being a homecoming for so many guys play a large part in that. Toss in the fact that this was the first road game of the season and that heavy rains resulted in the game being scarcely attended, and the whole evening was just...weird.
I'm very glad it's over and I'm very glad that the Cards are home with a 4-0 record.
Marcus Smith always makes me feel better.
U can't win them all by 50 we 4-0 that's all that matters, #L1C4 , we gone do better dont worry bout that— Marcus Smith (@DueceMarcc17) September 23, 2012
Coach said it best today, we 4-0 but we still haven't played the way we can play, we haven't made a statement yet, lets go this week #L1C4— Marcus Smith (@DueceMarcc17) September 24, 2012
Nick Heuser is currently leading all Louisville receivers with two touchdown receptions...on three catches. Things like this are why I always feel silly reading or writing overly in-depth position previews during the summer.
As far as Teddy's performance is concerned, my biggest worry wasn't the picks or the balls thrown behind guys, it was the lack of zip on his passes after the first drive. I don't know if the ball was wet or if he suffered some sort of bruise, but the velocity on Bridgewater's passes was not the same after the Cards marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead.
Teddy looked human on Saturday, and because of the way he played in Louisville's first three games, looking human appeared worse than it actually was. When the game was on the line, Teddy stepped up and made the throws his team needed him to make, and that's all you can ask of a till bourgeoning leader.
The good thing about the performance is that any distraction caused by the ealy Heisman buzz is at least temporarily quashed. Although he's probably not going to be fully removed from the discussion until Louisville loses.
I was surprised to see FIU getting such consistent penetration, especially up the middle, against our O-line during the first half. I'm not sure what adjustments were made during the break, but that problem was reduced considerably during the game's second 30 minutes. Kudos to the staff and the Cardinal front five for regrouping and getting the job done.
Senorise Perry is really emerging as a big play back and had perhaps his best game as a Cardinal to date on Saturday. Still, I'd love to see him explode more (figuratively) once he gets out into the open field. It's almost like he's too worried about not fumbling and so he covers up the ball, slows down and braces himself for impact instead of trying to outrun the linebackers and defensive backs in space.
You have more speed than probably 95% of the people playing college football, take advantage, my man Also, you only make big plays. Also, happy belated birthday.
Calvin Pryor missed a big tackle on FIU's first scoring drive. The young man is human, after all.
It was brought to my attention during the game that Andrell Smith's nickname in high school was Pooda. Andrell Smith's nickname on Card Chronicle is now Pooda.
Really thought Pooda played his best game to date as a Cardinal. The one-handed catch was ridiculous and he ran a perfect route on his touchdown reception.
Pretty obvious that the officials read the game day posts here every Saturday and place bets on the accuracy of my bold predictions. That's the only explanation for not giving Adrian Bushell that first half interception even after checking the replay. A thousand people watching an Internet feed that was complete ass could tell that the ball was clearly picked, but somehow your footage/on-field view of the play wasn't conclusive? Shameful.
On a related note, kick rocks, ESPN3. Seriously.
I've been saying kick rocks A LOT lately, so I thought I'd just give you all a quick glimpse at what daily life at Card Chronicle Headquarters is really like.
I'd be remiss if I went any further before acknowledging the true star of Saturday night:
For those who weren't privy to the magic, here is an actual transcript of one of Anastasia's sideline reports:
"Well after that last series, the crowd is here, they are pumped, they are getting behind this team. The team is getting excited. And we'll see if that momentum stays on their team the rest of this half here, in the first half."
I started to do a complete breakdown of this, but after getting through the first line it became apparent that the juice was not going to be worth the squeeze. The long and short of it was that this sideline report from Anastasia was not only unnecessary but also poorly executed.
Still, there's something about her that just makes you want to...host a morning show together. If you're telling me you wouldn't watch "Anastasia and Mike in the Morning" on WLKY (or wherever...CNN) then you are completely lying to yourself, and that's an unhealthy way to begin a week.
One of my biggest concerns right now is that the defensive line is becoming frustrated. Playing four games against four spread offenses where every snap you know that you have virtually no shot at recording a tackle behind the line of scrimmage has got to take a toll.
I think there was some evidence of this on FIU's second touchdown when it was 3rd and goal from the four. Everyone in the stadium thought the Panthers would throw including U of L's front four, who all appeared to be looking to bat down a pass when the ball was snapped and Darian Mallary ended up taking a handoff straight up the gut for the score.
Playing agains this same quick pass, no-huddle offense week after week can't be fun, but U of L's big guys up front have got to find a way to stay motivated because the rest of the Cardinal defense can't function without them doing their jobs.
I'm not sure if we need to get DeVante Parker the ball more or if he just needs to do a better job of getting open, but I would like to see the ball in No. 9's hands a great deal more than we have through the first four weeks of the season.
I definitely missed tailgating, but it was kind of nice to experience a full Saturday of college football for a change. Starting it off with Kentucky's hilarious performance against Florida was enjoyable. Tell me more about Louisville's schedule, Morgan.
The announcers made it seem as though Jake Medlock is a Heisman front-runner whose exit from the game left the Golden Panthers with no shot to pull the upset. The reality is that E.J. Hilliard might be the biggest recruit Mario Cristobal has ever landed, and his athleticism brought an element to the game that the Cardinal defense was not prepared for. I was very worried about this becoming a Teddy vs. UK situation, and Hilliard played the part, hitting on 9 of 10 passes and keeping several plays alive with his feet. Bridgewater's former high school teammate is going to be a very, very good player down there.
After the UK game I talked about how the most amazing aspect of the first third down conversion on U of L's opening drive was the fact that Damian Copeland was able to stay in bounds before catching that perfect throw from Teddy. On Saturday he was far less aware as we saw him clearly take three or four strides out of bounds before making a great catch that was ultimately negated by the transgression.
Know where your feet are, Honey Mustard. Stay awesome.
If the NCAA is looking to reduce unnatural crowd noise at games, then they need to take a look at FIU. That Golden Panther PA announcer was essentially a glorified cheerleader, and there were a couple of times where he was screaming for the home fans to "get up and make some noise" (or whatever) when Teddy was actually under center and attempting to call out the cadence. You're not supposed to be able to do that.
I'm not the first to say it up, but his play to stop FIU on that short 4th down showed just how valuable Preston Brown will be against non-spread offenses once conference play begins. He's basically been a glorified sixth defensive back/roamer for the first month of the season, and that doesn't play to his strengths.
Hang in there, Preston. Pitt game isn't far away at all now.
I said at the beginning that the easiest thing to do in this wrap-up post would be to say that you play to win games and Louisville is 4-0. I didn't say it wasn't accurate.
We aren't all that far removed from a season in which the Cards finished with just four victories. Having that total on the morning of Sept. 24 is much, much more fun.